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Fishing - Curiosity, persistence can pay off big time

Some tips to help weekend anglers boat picture-worthy fish

Some tips to help weekend anglers boat picture-worthy fish

For fishermen and boaters, Monday morning usually means a week away from the boat and the water. But a successful weekend of angling gives them a chance to show off photos of their catch to friends, family and co-workers.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for catching the big’uns:

The first fish that comes to mind is fluke, which are soon to be on the summer radar of Northeast anglers. They offer great eating, a spirited fight and also the opportunity to catch them at a civilized hour. You don’t have to arise before sunlight to be in a position to catch a doormat, slang for a large summer flounder.

To consistently catch big fluke, a weekend angler may have to adjust his tactics. Instead of drifting with the Saturday fleet in 30 feet of water just off the bell buoy at the end of the harbor, head out to deeper water, looking for structure like humps, ridges or reefs out in water from 80 to 140 feet.

A friend of mine in East Lyme, Conn., specializes in fluke of more than five pounds. I’ve been with him when we caught eight fish in short order, none of which had to be measured. All were more than four pounds; some were more than 10 pounds. This man fishes deep humps and ridges — some as deep as 140 feet — in the confines of eastern Long Island Sound where the tide can run very fast at certain times of the month.

To get around the swift flow, he fishes only the last two hours of the ebb tide, times when he can tend the bottom in depths not normally associated with Saturday fluking, but where outsized fluke live and feed.

To interest such bigger fish, he uses only a two hook-rig for his outsized baits: a 12-inch strip of fluke belly tapered to a fine point or with a split tail, to make the strip look even more alive when drifted along the bottom. On top of the strip he puts a large shiner that he orders from a nearby tackle shop that specializes in big baits.

When a big fluke grabs the bait, he doesn’t rear back on the rod, instead he gives the fish line (fishing the reel in free spool) to allow it to get the big offering in its mouth. Then he puts the reel in gear and lifts the rod in a sweeping arc to drive home the hook. I’m usually standing by to take pictures and net the prize.

Contrast this fellow’s technique with your own and make adjustments if you find yourself tossing back most fluke you land because they fail to meet today’s ever-larger minimum sizes required by state law.

Searching for stripers

Big striped bass always stop folks at the water cooler; the gleaming silver sides look great in photos when taken still dripping wet. A lion’s share of stripers of more than 40 pounds are caught with bunker. There are many ways to fish this bait, which may weigh two pounds, but the average angler’s best shot is to find some schooled up in a harbor early in the day.

Toss a snatch rig (weighted treble sold in most tackle shops) into the school, then hank hard on a light spinning rod, the object being to drive the treble into the side of a bait then reel it in, deposit in a live well in your boat and take off for the grounds when you have enough bait for a morning’s fishing.

One of the easier ways to fish with a live bunker is to trade the spinning rod for conventional tackle. Put a hook in the back of a lively bunker, then let it swim around a pile of rocks where bass hang out. Such spots include the mid-bay islands in Narragansett Bay, the backside of the ElizabethIslands or the south side of fishy FisherIsland or perhaps the front of jetties along the New Jersey coast.

In recent years newcomers have also been catching large bass out after bunker school in the middle of western Long Island Sound or at various spots offshore of New Jersey, the big bass keying in on the bait schools; anglers with live wells in hot pursuit.

Drifting over wrecks

While boaters in western Long Island Sound are catching the first 25-pounders of the season in mid-May, their counterparts up around Boston have yet to see the first of the large stripers, so they may put the boats in the water looking for cod and haddock. Haddock have been plentiful, but cod — especially large ones — are in decline, the victim of poor fishery management over a 30-year period.

This leaves Mr. and Mrs. Average Boater in the lurch unless one locates and fishes on shipwrecks, some of them surprisingly close to shore. Wrecks, even in times of low abundance, become an oasis where large cod can still be found because many anglers not know where the wrecks are in water from 200 to 300-plus feet deep.

Some wreck numbers can be obtained by doing a favor for an old timer at the yacht club or maybe a person you meet at a fishing organization meeting. Still others have gotten little gold mines of numbers because a family member is friendly with a retired commercial fisherman who kept good records of productive spots. If you get access to such a log, remember the positions entered are for the boat at the time the bottom-trawling net became snagged on something. The bearings may not include the distance from boat to snagged net, so some looking around may be necessary to locate “the hang” as they are often called.

Drifting over such a snag or wreck when the tide isn’t running hard will often provide the largest fish of the day. Back in the early to mid-1990s we did quite a bit of wreck fishing inside Massachusetts Bay, often landing a moderate number of cod of more than 30 pounds, sometimes within sight of the PrudentialCenter building in midtown Boston. One hot, sultry August morning we landed a 53-pounder in 256 feet of water a scant 10 miles off ScituateHarbor.

Speaking of wrecks, they will also produce jumbo sea bass from time to time; just make sure to fish them at the end of one tide into the slack water. Drop a two-hook rig with chunks of squid to the bottom as you drift over it. Be ready to lose some rigs, but a tasty sea bass tipping the scales at more than five pounds will make it all worthwhile.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England and Long Island waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.